UK MPs are set to vote once again tonight on PM Theresa May’s tweaked withdrawal agreement with the European Union (EU) and the Freight Transport Association (FTA) has warned the PM of the harm a no deal will have on UK trade.
Last night, the PM said after a meeting in Strasbourg with senior EU officials that she had secured “legally binding” changes following last-minute talks, meaning the Irish backstop – the insurance policy designed to avoid a hard border in Ireland – could not “become permanent”.
The last time Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement was put to Parliament in January MPs voted against it by a margin of 230. If MPs reject the deal tonight, a vote is set to be held in Parliament on whether MPs support a no deal or not.
If that is rejected, MPs are then set to vote on Thursday (14 March) on whether to seek an extension from the EU of Article 50, as the UK will leave the bloc with a no deal as it stands on 29 March.
Ahead of tonight’s vote, the FTA told politicians and the PM that a no deal Brexit would “break her promise made” in January 2017 to keep trade as frictionless as possible.
Representatives of the UK’s leading logistics organisations, including shippers and hauliers as well as the industry’s trade association FTA, have signed an open letter to the PM, shared with all MPs.
This the FTA said reminds Parliament to consider the needs of those tasked with keeping Britain trading and understand the costs and disruption of a No Deal departure from the EU on the UK economy, both in the short-term and the long-run.
FTA’s deputy chief executive, James Hookham said for the past two years, the logistics industry has been warning of the potential disruption and damage of a no deal Brexit.
He said this could include short-term gridlock at ferry ports if customs processes and checks are not implemented smoothly, shortages of perishable foods and medicines, restrictions in the labour market caused by a shortage of workers as they return to the EU.
Hookham also said it could lead to severe delays for imports and exports which would hinder the UK’s manufacturing and retail sectors. “The Government believes it has developed the necessary procedures to be followed but yet there is still so much to be agreed and announced,” he added.
“Whatever the final outcome of tonight’s vote, and those later this week, the logistics industry needs sufficient time to learn, adapt to and implement the necessary operational processes to comply with the announced procedures. With just over two weeks to go until the UK’s proposed departure from the EU, it is worrying that we still have so much to clarify.”
Today’s letter lays out the priorities which, Hookham said the logistics industry has been lobbying government for clarity over since Article 50 was triggered, back in 2017.
He added it is impossible for those involved in complex supply chains to adapt to new trading conditions in a matter of days. “The sector still needs confirmation of many aspects, including whether road haulage permits will be required, the level of Customs tariffs, access to a skilled workforce and how red tape will be minimised for imports and exports.
“Slipping to a No Deal situation, and reverting to complicated WTO rules and tariffs, would impose additional costs of between 5 and 35 per cent on the UK’s supply chain.
“Mrs May needs to urge Parliament to recognise the real jeopardy that a No Deal Brexit, as outlined in today’s letter, would impose on the logistics industry and the country as a whole.
Business cannot trade on “what if’s?” and “maybe’s” – a transition period to whatever the new market arrangements will be is essential if Britain is to keep trading efficiently after its departure from the European Union.”